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Justice delayed but not denied

In the case of the decades-old child-sex-abuse claims being made against former Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin, public exposure is the only route to healing for the alleged victims.

But it is to be hoped that one day soon, that will change.

Since the allegations — that Conlin, 77, assaulted six girls and a boy in the 1960s and '70s — date well beyond the existing criminal and civil statutes of limitations in New Jersey, Conlin apparently cannot be hauled into court on the charges.

Conlin says through his attorney that he wants to clear his name. But if the allegations are true, the victims in this case and others deserve a better means to hold their attackers accountable.

While there is no way to roll back the clock on criminal charges once a statute has lapsed, victims could and should be given their day in court through a legal exception allowing civil claims. That could give them compensation for their suffering or at least expose the perpetrators in court.

A so-called window for civil action has been a rallying cry among victims of abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. It's clearly justified given findings that Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials merely moved accused priests from parish to parish while failing to report the charges to authorities.

Too often, it takes years or even decades for victims of childhood sexual assault to come forward. In contrast to the 40-count criminal indictment of former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who faces assault claims dating to the 1990s, older cases are precluded by statutes that are now considered outdated among experts in the psychology of abuse.

Recent changes to the criminal statutes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have solved much of this problem for current and future cases of abuse. Once further measures are taken to clarify the duty to report suspected abuse — a clear failing in the scandal that led to the ouster of Penn State coaching legend Joe Paterno — victims will have the improved protections that fairness demands.

That still leaves victims of abuse that took place years ago, though. Following the lead of Delaware and California, then, it's time for lawmakers in Harrisburg and Trenton to step up for those whose attackers have been shielded by the passage of time. Both legislatures should pass civil-window legislation akin to a proposal by Pennsylvania Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.).

Exposing decades-old allegations offers victims a measure of justice, but they deserve more.

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